Japan is a country that spends a lot of time and money in schools and in adult education learning languages like English, and yet the results among average learners do not equal the investment for the most part. The majority of people, even after completing several years’ of education in English, cannot speak it at all. However, this is likely more an issue of curriculum and classroom formats; technology at any rate is on the way to giving us more digital tools.

New Horizon is the most common textbook series for English classes in Japanese junior high schools. But its writers are not content just sitting on their laurels and sticking with plain words and pages. In order to enhance learning experiences and maintain student interest in the subject they have launched an augmented reality dimension to their latest book release.

Hitting the shelves physically and digitally from the end of August, the textbook contains a number of English conversation lessons featuring three characters in a story-style structure over fifteen years. Somewhat typically Japanese boy Ken has to move to America during school and then returns home to Japan to woe his old schoolfriend.

So far, hardly innovative. But there is an AR app accompanying the textbook that will literally bring the lessons and conversations to life in front of you. It has the benefit of being able to demonstrate pronunciation and accents in a much more interesting way than the usual CD that comes with a language book. And, being a manga comic book, it lends itself well to “coming out of the page” like an anime TV series, without it having to look too realistic.

Just aim your phone camera at the A4 pages of the textbook in order to turn the pictures into animated scenes, and to have the characters appear to “stand” on the page and talk.

Can we make educational tools, even traditional ones like a school textbook, more interactive for students? With the aid of an iPhone and AR it seems that we can. The only question now is whether it actually helps and stimulates the students to learn more.

The app is free to download and currently is available for the iPhone and iPad. The main book costs 1,400 JPY (about $18).